Extended Actions

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Actions that take so long to complete that they require players to miss opportunities to perform other actions in order to complete them.

Not all actions in games take place immediately, and some require that players continue to perform them for a period of time before taking effect. Such actions are Extended Actions and require players to make choices between completing them and abandoning them in order to start other actions. If they cannot be interrupted, they do not even let player abandon them in favor of other actions, and the player must commit fully to them.


The existence of Extended Actions are easily notice to in turn-based games since the game system lets players view the state every turn. One example can be found in the Europa Universalis series, where requires players to commit their armies for up to years when each turn is a day to win siege.

Extended Actions are however also quite common in real-time games. Buildings in the Age of Empires series and cities in the Civilization series let players build units, but the production of these take time, and while they are being produced no new production can start. Capturing spawn points in the Battlefield series requires one or several players to dominate the point for an extended continuous period of time. The activating of machinery, the helping of other survivors hanging from ledges, and the healing of oneself or others are all examples of Extended Actions in the Left 4 Dead series. Taking photographs to complete certain mission goals in America's Army requires that the player performs an action continuously for a certain period of time, is not able to check the surroundings freely, and risk being killed.

Constructing building in FarmVille or Zombie Lane requires many individual actions or resources which could have been used for other actions.

All Live Action Roleplaying Games include Extended Actions since they include everyday actions such as walking, talking, and eating that take seconds or minutes to perform.

Using the pattern

Extended Actions can quite easily be created from any action by requiring that its effects do not take place instantaneously but rather require players to continue performing them for some while. Development Time can be used to set a fixed amount of time needed but another option is to vary the effect by how long time a player has performed the actions for through the use of Investments - here Geometric Progression can be used to provide increased Value of Effort while Arithmetic Progression can lessen Risk/Reward associated with starting the action. When created through Investments, this may both be due to them tying up the possible actions available to players and due to depleting Resources. Real-Time Games can in principle not avoid supporting Extended Actions - games typically can handle input much faster than it take to perform simple actions such as moving, thinking, or aiming . The reason for adding Extended Actions to a game is typically to add Risk/Reward or Tension to a game but can also be a way to limit Freedom of Choice if it is perceived that there is too much present. If the time set is long enough this may lead to Encouraged Return Visits since players are unlikely to have one play session but rather two (or more) to see the action fulfilled.

Once the action is started, the Extended Actions may either be possible to stop as examples of Interruptible Actions, or be Ultra-Powerful Events and thereby make players have Helplessness regarding the event. Irrespectively, they may start having effects immediately, have increasingly stronger or weaker consequences the longer they are performed, or may require an initial threshold to be reached before starting to have effect at all. In the latter case, the completion of them entails Hovering Closures and Perceivable Margins, especially if they are also Collaborative Actions, since they then show the willingness of several players to perform the actions. When Extended Actions do not produce effects until they are finished and are trivial to maintain, the actions leading up to the completion can be regarded as No-Ops and the initial actions can be seen as having Delayed Effects. When players only have one Focus Loci, these No-Ops can equal Downtime for the player and limit their Freedom of Choice but in contrast be a part of Gameplay Mastery in games with multiple Focus Loci since it requires skill in Attention Swapping.

Producers and Controllers are typically game elements in Game Worlds used to provide Extended Actions that are not provided by players' Focus Loci. In contrast, reaching Area Control can be Extended Actions supported by specific places in the Game Worlds (e.g. the Battlefield series). Combos and Dexterity-Based Actions such as Aim & Shoot are examples of Extended Actions provided by players' Focus Loci and may be supported game mechanically by having a Variable Accuracy that becomes better the longer one aims (seen in the Battlefield series and later installments of the Fallout series). Rhythm-Based Actions are a form of Dexterity-Based Action that can create Extended Actions with or without the use of Focus Loci, as are Construction activities. In contract to the more generic Construction, Crafting is tied to a Focus Loci.

The Cooldown pattern have similar effects on actions as making them into Extended Actions and can therefore be worth considering as an alternative.

Interface Aspects

It is quite common to use Progress Indicators as specific Game State Indicators to let players know how much time they have put into an Extended Action (see for example the Left 4 Dead series).

For games that use some form of real world proximity detection as part of their gameplay, i.e. make use of Artifact-Location, Player-Artifact, Player-Avatar, Player-Location, or Player-Player Proximity, may need to have Extended Actions simply for the reason that the underlying technology needs this to reliably verify the proximity.


The primary consequence of Extended Actions is that it forces players to make Trade-Offs between making one Extended Action or several "normal" ones. Since this in one fashion makes them more difficult to perform than other actions, Extended Actions provide Challenging Gameplay. Extended Actions typically give one out of three effects: requiring a certain level of commitment from players to start using the actions but then make the continued use easy; encouraging players to use the actions continuously to achieve additional effects; or requiring commitment from players for a continuous period of time. The first reason gives Stimulated Planning and may have Balancing Effects if more powerful actions require more preparation and Resources. The second reason gives players increased Freedom of Choice, as it provides players with additional ways of using actions but can also limit players by making the continuation of the action very valuable, as for example when using Geometric Progression. The third reason can, like the first reason, cause Stimulated Planning and have Balancing Effects but can also increase Tension if the actions are Interruptible Actions since they are Continuous Goals. The last case can also cause Tension and require additional Risk/Reward considerations if players are vulnerable to hostile actions due to being affected by Helplessness.

In many cases, Extended Actions can be seen as modifying Abilities. Seen from the point of when the they are started, Extended Actions create Delayed Effects.


Can Instantiate

Balancing Effects, Challenging Gameplay, Delayed Effects, Encouraged Return Visits, Gameplay Mastery, Hovering Closures, Perceivable Margins, Risk/Reward, Stimulated Planning, Tension, Trade-Offs, Variable Accuracy

with Geometric Progression

Value of Effort

with Helplessness


with Interruptible Actions

Continuous Goals, Tension

with No-Ops

Attention Swapping, Downtime

Can Modulate

Abilities, Area Control, Artifact-Location Proximity, Collaborative Actions, Controllers, Construction, Crafting, Freedom of Choice, Player-Artifact Proximity, Player-Avatar Proximity, Player-Location Proximity, Player-Player Proximity, Producers

Can Be Instantiated By

Aim & Shoot, Combos, Development Time, Dexterity-Based Actions, Investments, Real-Time Games, Rhythm-Based Actions

Can Be Modulated By

Arithmetic Progression, Freedom of Choice, Game State Indicators, Geometric Progression, Helplessness, Interruptible Actions, No-Ops, Progress Indicators, Ultra-Powerful Events

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



A revised version of the pattern Extended Actions that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.